Thursday, November 10, 2005


The challenges of living in my furnished spartan quarters in the St. James Monastery are few. They are spare, but comfortable; offer me shelter and warmth -- three rooms, a small bathroom with shower, a tiny refrigerator, toaster oven, electric water pot, a radio/tape/CD player. I have my laptop, a color printer, and scanner. My inside phone connects me to every office in the Patriarchate, as well as the front gate. The little courtyard has an entrance gate which we lock as we go out and unlock when we enter. My neighbor is very nice and has a TV with satellite and receives some 325 stations from every imaginable place on the planet. When I visit her in the late evening, after I get home from my day's work, she fixes hot tea for me and interprets what is being broadcast, be it the news or her favorite soap opera. And there is a separate laundry room with a washer and dryer for my use. What more could a girl want?

Here is one vignette that brings a sense of reality to this idyllic setting. Since I have been here, and during other visits prior to this 22nd one in 13 years, it's been about the washer and dryer. The washer is of the kind that is front-loading, with a porthole window, so you can watch your laundry slosh around, spin, and finally come to a stop so you can open the door. Its age, like mine, is difficult to assess, but the rust marks around the edges of white enamel, like my silver-streaked dark hair indicate some vestiges of time. The control dial has the letter from A to N around it and some little icons that indicate whether it's the fill, rinse, or spin cycles. The key to the instructions are in German (das ist nicht mein Muttersprache). The other problem is that the pump must be as tired as I am at the end of the work day, so you have to coax it by hand-turning the dial to the next phase of washing. In short, it takes several hours for the washer to stop and allow the liberation of the clean laundry.

Being aware of these idiosyncrasies, I put in a load of laundry a couple of days after I got to Jerusalem and noticed that the machine was cranking with difficulty, something like those with arthritis or other aches and pains of overuse might experience. Even though in the past, the wash cycles took forever, this one never quite finished and I had to coax completion manually. As for the dryer, it only has one temperature setting -- HOT!!! And you have to turn it off to prevent your wash from baking. The second attempt at doing laundry did not fare much better, and in fact, never finished. My clothes stayed in the recycled water, detergent and softener overnight. I feared I would have to wear the same clothes I had on my back for the rest of my stay. But the Patriarchate's maintenance engineer came to my rescue, fiddling with the back panel of the washer, and the laundry ordeal ended. Laundry 3, no luck. So another washer was brought from storage and installed. Happy day! However, because soaked clothes had been put in the dryer, and the heat and steam filled the laundry room without sufficient ventilation, this caused an electrical short, small fire, and power failure within our courtyard.

But, dear reader, I lived to tell this tale. Everything is fixed, and all that remains besides the memory is VERY CLEAN LAUNDRY and the blackened ceiling in the laundry room.


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